Book review: StandOut — The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strengths Revolution

This review originally ran in the Oct. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.


By Marcus Buckingham

Thomas Nelson


Michael Jordan the basketball player was arguably the best to ever play the game.

Jordan the baseball player? Not so much.

Air Jordan stunned the sports world when he retired during the 1993-94 season to pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

Jordan got off to an inauspicious start, hitting just .202 with the minor league Birmingham Barons.  By the end of the season, he was batting .252.

His manager said that with more work, Jordan could someday make it to The Show as a journeyman player.

After a less than stellar season in the minors, Jordan returned to basketball and led the Chicago Bulls to three more championships.

Jordan wisely opted to return to what author Marcus Buckingham calls our strengths zone. All of us have one. Within this zone is where we do our best work and do it better than the rest. It’s also where we’re our most innovative and productive.

“We each have specific areas where we consistently stand out, where we can do things, see things, understand things and learn things better and faster than ten thousand other people can,” says the leader of the strengths revolution.

Straying from our strengths zone can be problematic. Our stand out performance quickly deteriorates into something less than pedestrian. We go from being an all-star to journeyman player in a supporting role.

“This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with new positions or stretch yourself with new challenges,” says Buckingham. “You should. But when you do, know that, consciously or not, you will bring your particular brand of genius with you.”

To find your zone, Buckingham has drawn on 20 years of research to come up with what he calls nine strength roles. These roles combine the most common and powerful themes related to talent.

There are advisor and connector roles. Equalizers and creators. Influencers and pioneers. Providers, stimulators and teachers. Two of these roles will be dominant in how we work with others and approach our work.

Buckingham defines each role and highlights when we’re at our most powerful in these roles. He suggests how to make an immediate impact, how to manage and lead and take your performance to the next level. There are also helpful pointers on what to watch out for so you don’t turn your strength into a weakness by alienating and annoying your colleagues, bosses and direct reports.

Through the wonders of an online assessment, Buckingham will reveal your top two roles. “These two strength roles are where you will make your greatest contribution. They are your edge – where you will have a natural advantage over everyone else. And they are your multiplier – you will most quickly learn and improve upon any innovations, techniques or best practices that complement these two roles.”

The assessment takes about 15 minutes to complete and walks you through a series of scenarios. For each scenario, you have 45 seconds to choose one of four possible responses.  There’s no right or wrong or obvious answers.  

To get a sense of the test, here’s one of the scenarios. A new teammate comes to you really excited about an idea she is sure will help your team excel. What do you do?

Do you run her idea by the rest of the team to see what they think?

Do you ask some challenging questions to see if she’s thought through her idea?

Do you highlight what’s great about the idea and help her build on it?

Or do you try out the idea and see if it works?

Buckingham says the assessment won’t reveal how well you know yourself. But it will reveal how you come across to others and when you’re at the top of your game. “When your read your results, keep your mind open to the possibility that, no matter how you see yourself, this is how others see you.”

Having read the book, I was pretty confident I knew my top two strength roles heading into the assessment. My test results told a different story, flagging two other roles that in hindsight are a pretty accurate read of my strengths.

If you’re not in the zone and clueless about what sets you apart, Buckingham can help you find your way. Knowing what you’re great at and playing to your strengths is your best bet for becoming an all-star at work and loving what you do for a living.

The choice is yours. You can spend more time at work doing the equivalent of highlight reel slam dunks from the free throw line or you can waste your time grounding out and striking out at the plate.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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